(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita," Nabokov traced the first inspiration for the novel to a newspaper story about an ape "who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage." As many critics have remarked, Lolita is not about sex but about love. Even more, it is about obsession — and the destructive power it can hold over the lives of its victims.

Humbert Humbert, the novel's narrator and protagonist, is, in addition to his passion for preadolescent girls, a consummate solipsist. He is incapable of seeing any of the other characters as human beings; he perceives Lolita as merely an extension of his own obsessions and fantasies. He does not understand that, in spite of some rudimentary sexual experience, her conceptions of sex, love, and life are very much those of a child raised on sundaes and movie magazines. It is only after he has lost Lolita — after he realizes that he has destroyed her — that Humbert can see her as a being separate from himself, and thus realize that he truly loves her. Thus, the novel which was condemned for its "immorality" and its "corrupting influence" actually contains one of Nabokov's most poignant moral messages.

A major theme in nearly all of Nabokov's works is memory, the attempt to capture, even create, the past. Thus, the novel is in the form of Humbert's reminiscences, written in prison as he...

(The entire section is 314 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Art and Experience
When Humbert calls himself an artist, he reveals his attempt to impose some kind of meaningful order on his baser instincts. In his record of his life with Lolita, he tries to create a work of art that will grant immortality for the two of them by foregrounding his aesthetic sense of Lolita's beauty, and at the same time, by obscuring his morally corrupt crimes against her. Yet, he is often unable to accomplish this, as evidenced when he imagines himself as a painter, expressing the poignancy and heartbreak that defines his relationship with Lolita. He suggests his murals would recreate

a lake. There would have been an arbor in flame-flower.... There would have been a sultan, his face expressing great agony (belied, as it were, by his molding caress), helping a callypygean slave child to climb a column of onyx. There would have been those luminous globules of gonadal glow that travel up the opalescent sides of jukeboxes. There would have been all kinds of camp activities on the part of the intermediate group, Canoeing, Coranting, Combing Curls in the lakeside sun. There would have been poplars, apples, a suburban Sunday. There would have been a fire opal dissolving within a ripple-ringed pool, a last throb, a last dab of color, stinging red, smarting pink, a sigh, a wincing child.

At other times, he turns to art to help ease his burden of guilt: "Unless it can be proven to me ... that in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a north American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, then...

(The entire section is 683 words.)